The Trail to Nowhere Penalty

Although its advocates keep whacking it like the proverbial dead horse, the near-disaster known as the Trail to Nowhere isn’t happening. We can thank Fullerton City Council members Dunlap, Jung, and Whitaker for pulling the plug on “Phase II” of the so-called Union Pacific Trail back in August. The proposal made no sense: it had few, if any potential users, ran through an area of heavy industry, was and would never be connected to anything else, cost nobody knew how much to maintain, didn’t even line up with its alleged Phase I, and cost $2,000,000 to build (if you can trust a City budget).

Perhaps most importantly, the council majority had previously requested that various trail options be considered in the context of a wider area plan. City staff essentially ignored that request and began a behind the scenes effort to drum up support for the original plan – an act of insubordination, really.

At the time no one told the three councilmembers that there was adjacent property with trichlorethylene contamination in the 300 block of Highland Avenue and plumes had drifted south, even though this information had been in the City’s possession for decades. Fortunately, Messrs. Dunlap, Whitaker and Jung had plenty of other excellent reasons to deny the grant funding for its intended purpose.

Another thing the City Council didn’t know was that if the grant application contained “false representations” – either intentionally, or through lack of reasonable effort – the grant could be rescinded and the State could demand whatever of its money had been spent. Here’s the relevant paragraph in the grant acceptance agreement:

In other words, had contaminated soils been detected on the “trail” the State may well have been inclined to demand whatever had been spent, particularly in light of the fact that the grant application falsely stated that environmental testing had been performed in 1998 and was not an issue.

We know this isn’t true because in the early 2000s the UP Park (after construction) was found to be contaminated, requiring mitigation; there is no way that the “trail” was somehow tested, but not the park site. We also know that very recent PRA requests identifying this specific issue returned no relevant documents.

Of course the State could have revoked the grant on the basis of the fraudulent application alone, had they discovered the misinformation, a municipal embarrassment, to be sure.

Fortunately, for the City employees who manufactured the grant application and snuck it past an incurious City manager, there will be no repercussion, not even a mild “talking to.” And fortunately for the rest of us, the City won’t be saddled with a stupid white elephant of Phase II that would have ended up looking an awful lot like Phase I.

Phase I’s inauspicious beginning. It gets worse.

So everybody should be happy, right?

Stupid Observer

A guy named Mike Ritto writes a periodic column for our Friends at the Fullerton Observer called The DOWNTOWN Report that ostensibly deals with happenings in our economic sinkhole known as Downtown Fullerton, or DTF, for short.

The story no one wanted to talk about.

In his latest piece Mr. Ritto promises A Brief History of Union Pacific Park. Hmm. This might be interesting, I thought. And so it is, but not for what it says, but for what it intentionally leaves out. It begins talking about the Union Pacific RR, the Santa Fe and even the Pacific Electric. Ritto eventually gets around to the park itself:

“…remnants of that UP line are the fenced-off, such as Union Pacific Park just to the West of the former station, where the tracks used to run.

That neighborhood needs a park, and as the residents look through the chain links and see, finally, grading and other preliminary work that is taking place right now, they know it is on the way. Approval of the park revitalization was covered in our August 7 issue. In addition, we are following developments in the proposed Union Pacific Trail, which would be an open space trail between this new park and Independence Park to the West.”

Somehow the UP Park history has become no history at all, just a mysterious space with a fence around it.

Children at play…

Of course Ritto omits mention that the UP Park was a park on which the City spent several million dollars in land acquisition and construction, and that the City closed down first because of toxic contamination, and then because of abundant crime. This latter fact gets no mention because Ritto is insistent that “the neighborhood needs a park” and remembering that the last effort failed would be extremely awkward – so let’s just forget it. Like his Observer pals he repeats the nonsense that the Trail to Nowhere is still a real thing.

To perpetuate the propensity for misinformation of which the Observer is (in)famous, Ritto remarks that approval of park revitalization has occurred, as reported in the Observer on August 7th. What really happened was the Parks Commission voted to recommend the the Trail to Nowhere to the City Council. The article itself, despite the erroneous headline, is really just a propaganda piece for the now dead Trail to Nowhere and has nothing to do with the UP Park site.

Fullerton Observer readers are often told that the effort is an all-volunteer affair, as a sort of apology for bad reporting, opinion masquerading as news, factual misrepresentation and basic spelling mistakes. The Kennedy clan has been doing this for forty years or more and there’s no likelihood that this will change.

The Taxman Cometh. Again.

I’m here to help. Again.

A few years ago during the depths of the COVID pandemic, the Fullerton City Council voted to put a sales tax measure on the ballot. Since things were looking grim and with revenue falling off, the best course of action in City Hall seemed to be to lay it on to taxpayers. It was necessary to protect Fullerton’s quality of life, you see; or, to be more precise, to protect the pay and pensions of City employees, particularly the cops and “fire fighters” who suck up the majority of the municipal budget.

Well, the names have mostly changed, except for Ahmad Zahra, but the playbook remains the same.

At their November 7th meeting the City Council heard a report from a company called FM3 that had been tasked with producing a survey of resident concerns, and, significantly, to poll them about how to raise revenue. And lots of it.

Who actually hired FM3 in the first place is a mystery, but it must have been our illustrious City Manager, Eric Levitt, since no record of the Council approving a contract is found in the City Clerk’s database. So far they have been paid $49,000 – most likely sneaking under their City Manager’s spending authorization.

Before delving into the presentation, it’s important to note that FM3 is a consulting operation deeply involved in promoting government tax and bond efforts, and has been supporting liberal Democrat politicians for decades. One of the clients listed on their website is Carter/Mondale! On their splash page we find the slogan: Synthesizing Public Opinion To Help Achieve Your Goals, which is code for push polling that promotes your client’s goal of raising taxes.

The company conducted its polling of likely voters last spring, The “results” were presented to the Council on the 7th.

The concerns of the citizenry polled emphasized Fullerton’s rotten roads and included a bunch of stuff that the City has no control over and is merely being used as data filler. The options were presented by the pollsters.

Notice the inclusion of budget shortfalls on the list. According to FM3, 45% of those surveyed believe budget shortfalls are a extremely/very serious problem. Really? Then the other shoe begins to drop.

First, it’s curious that somehow data relating to 2019 and 2020 are shared. Where did that data come from? And what happened to 2021 and 2022? This presentation is just nonsense.

The bland term “additional funding” to the initiated means more taxes, but probably not to those polled. Not yet anyway, for the respondents are being artfully massaged by people whose job it is to push and pass tax proposals for their governmental “clients.” The bit about providing “the level of services Fullerton residents need and want” is telling, and so is the language. How does one’s “personal opinion” qualify one to opine on all Fullerton residents? The purpose is to loosen the respondents mind into the miasma of the common good, as defined by the principle beneficiaries – City employees. Then the other shoe hit the ground.

It didn’t take very long for FM3 to roll out a couple of “hypothetical” sales tax raising ballot measures, one a general purpose tax and the other more narrowly directed to infrastructure, although including the ambiguous phrase “to maintain rapid police, fire and 911 response.” The general purpose tax only requires 50%+1 ballot majority; the special purpose tax requires a 67% majority. The latter is an almost impossible threshold to get over.

Then FM3 rolls out some interesting language in their push for a general sales tax. Notice how these alleged concerns of the surveyed mimic the language of the typical “push poll.” FM3 is using language that will elicit super-high positive responses and suggest that others are already on board. The tiny text at the bottom of the slide tells all. But is all this dire language persuasive when it actually comes to voting?

Finally, FM3 sums it up by saying that a general sales tax is winnable. But is it? Somebody said the same thing about the City’s Measure S back in 2020 and it failed.

In the end the Council (Jung, Zahra and Charles) voted to keep the “education” process going, a process that we know is nothing other than political propaganda aimed at persuading a majority of voters and coordinating with a special political action committee set up to scare, cajole, and bamboozle the voters.

As Bruce Whitaker pointed out on the 7th, there is supposed to be a “bright line” that separates government information from government propaganda. But this line only in the abstract law. In practice the line dissolves almost completely.

The Scarcity of Public Information, Part 2

A few weeks ago I published a post detailing how someone had requested on October 12th, through a Public Records Act Request, information on environmental testing along the abandoned Union Pacific right-of-way; and how the City on October 23, in response, replied with six document files they called a “full release” and that had nothing to do with any sort of testing at all.

Well, they’ve done it again.

The trail didn’t go anywhere, but it sure was short…

Also on October 12th, the same person made a related request, specifically asking for a Phase 1 environmental report of the right-of-way. A Phase 1 environmental report surveys a property and its neighbors for historical usage in an attempt to identify potential environmental issues. On October 28th the City responded with the identical unresponsive documents as before, apparently digging a deeper hole for itself.

Whether this is sheer incompetence or just bullheaded arrogance, or a lot of both, remains to be seen.

As before, the proper response is not to share completely irrelevant and non-responsive documents, but, rather to simply state that there are no responsive documents.

The blue square ain’t good. Welcome to Trichlorethylene Alley. Please keep moving…

Why the City refuses to obey the law suggests several things. First, as mentioned above, stupid incompetence and/or arrogance. Or maybe somebody down there thinks they can stonewall a possible, even likely truth – that there never was any environmental testing done along the right-of-way, a path that lies adjacent and likely right on top of toxic contamination and on which the City tried to build a recreation trail for $2,000,000.

Misuse of the City Seal

A Friend directed me to a item in the Fullerton Observer about how Mayor Fred Jung had misused the official City seal on business cards.

UPDATE: 6:45PM 10/31/23. To protect them from getting nasty calls from any mean spirited person out there, the phone numbers of these honest men who are trying to help Fullerton’s economic growth have been redacted. The cards were originally published in The Fullerton Observer. I’m curious where the Observer got the cards from to begin with., something tells me it was devious. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Hope The Observer follows suit, but don’t hold your breath. Admin.

There’s nothing odd or wrong about members of City commissions using official insignia and I bet it happens all the time. What is strange is the creation of non-existent jobs advertised on two of the cards we’re looking at here. There is no official thing as a Mayor’s Art Counsel (sic?) or a Mayor’s Economic Advisor. These endeavors would be purely unofficial and creating business cards for them is wrong. And there is no reason to include a résumé on the backside of anybody’s City-related card.

Look at us, look at us!

One of the reasons I’m posting this is because a few days ago FFFF published a blog post about the self-congratulatory and unsolicited statement sent out by Councilmembers Ahmad Zahra and Shana Charles about the situation in Gaza on City letterhead that includes the City seal, and that was published in the Fullerton Observer without objection. In the comments section one of our Friends questioned the dubious use of the City seal.

The self-righteous Kennedy clan that operates the Fullerton Observer is too dense to recognize their own hypocrisy here, but I’m not.

The misuse of the seal is happening, and it needs to be stopped, regardless of who is doing it.

The Trail to Nowhere Phase I Scam

You know, the more I have looked into the ill-fated “rec trail” that would have wasted $2,000,000 in public funds, the more I notice a trend of ignorant misstatements and misdirection; outright prevarication and a lot of hopeless wishful thinking.

Since it’s so hopeless, I can dispense with the wishful thinking (for now). The deliberate lies will be the theme of another post. This post will deal with the misstatements concerning the so-called “Phase I” of the Trail to Nowhere that City staff and trail supporters keep talking about as some sort of achievement. I really wonder if any of them have ever actually seen what they are talking about. I went there today, and I’m here to help.

First, here is a satellite image of “Phase I” that was put in place at the same time the Union Pacific Park was built. The black line is superimposed over the “trail” – a sidewalk running next to a decomposed granite path along which an horse railing was thoughtfully added, presumably for the equestrian enthusiasts in the barrio.

The trail, such as it is, doesn’t even start at the UP Park. It starts just west of it. It runs a few hundred feet and makes an abrupt 90 degree turn, crosses the paved alley about 50′ and then it makes another 90 turn to the left and eventually follows the descending grade of Highland Avenue where it stops at Walnut Avenue at the bottom of the railroad underpass.

Phase I’s inauspicious beginning. It gets worse.
90 degree turns ahead…
Down she goes…no Phase II in sight.

Does any of this “trail” meet any sort of basic requirements? It sure looks like a design mess to me. And of course this “facility” has been completely neglected by City maintenance and is covered in weeds, broken railings and strewn with trash and vandalized by graffiti.

It’s perfectly obvious to anybody with a modicum of commonsense that this effort has no broader connectivity at the east end. It has no connection to the Transportation Center, Downtown Fullerton or parts east, as continuously claimed by promoters of the “Phase II” extension. It has no connection to anything except the fenced off UP Park. In fact, the thing is so obviously useless for its intended purpose that the City used the adjacent parking stalls for homeless car campers. Who would care? The route behind the Elephant Packing building smells like it’s been used for public urination. A lot of it.

The sad fact is that of course nobody uses this trail for recreation purposes, and for obvious reasons. It’s useless and it’s often dangerous.

Local youths recreating on Phase I…

The answer? Phase II of course! The problem with this little useless zig-zag is to connect it to Independence Park with a two million dollar extension, and the problem is solved.

Here’s the City’s plan:

But how is that supposed to work, exactly? If you look at the City’s proposal image above you can easily see that the Phase I part doesn’t even line up with the would-be Phase II to the west, indicated above by the arrow. But the asphalt alleyway does.

Uh, oh. It’s Fullerton, Jake…

This would have meant that Phase I isn’t even finished and would require further modification, a scope of work not discussed by anybody, not shown on the plan above, not budgeted, and one that would mean the horror of a bike trail running alongside the existing paved road to get to Highland Avenue. And then of course there’s the problem of actually getting across Highland and traffic line of sight safety – another impediment to recreational fun.

While the questions of Phase I’s utility and connectivity to Phase II are now, fortunately, moot, it’s instructive to observe the design failure and the real truth: this would never have been a connection to any other part of eastern Fullerton or linkage to any regional trail plan as relentlessly cited by staff. The only way Phase I was useful was its availability to justify an extension. Unless you were to look at an actual map.

The Scarcity of Public Information

The trail didn’t go anywhere, but it sure was short…

As might have been predicted, someone made a Public Records Act request on October 12th for information regarding soils and environmental testing on the abandoned Union Pacific right-of-way, purchased by the City of Fullerton in the 1990s.

Why is this request germane to FFFF? Because the blog has speculated about contamination along the UP right-of-way, in view of previously discovered toxicity that closed the UP Park and because it is known by the EPA, the Orange County Water District, and the City of Fullerton’s Engineering Department that the carcinogenic chemical trichloroethylene was discovered at 311 S. Highland Avenue, a heavy industrial property that lies along the proposed recreation trail on the UP right-of-way. It is also known that contamination is moving south and east from the aforementioned property.

Is it safe? Is it clean?

Needless to say, none of this information was given to the Fullerton City Council when they considered approving the State Natural Resources grant that would have paid for most of the trail construction.

Here is the request:

Well, that’s a pretty simple request. And, as you can see, the City claims that it has complied by issuing a “full release” of documents. Here’s what they released:

Enjoy yourself reviewing these documents on the City Clerk’s website page. It won’t take you long. Of the 6 files listed none has anything to do with soils or environmental testing. From this response, such as it is, we may reasonably infer that no testing was done, or if it was, the documentation is lost. In either case the proper response should have been “no relevant documents exist.” Instead City staff posted completely irrelevant and non-responsive documents onto their website. Was it just an effort to look responsive, somehow? Did they even care?

Don’t know, don’t care… (Photo by Julie Leopo/Voice of OC)

If we grant that the City’s functionaries are somewhat honest as they go about their business then we have no choice but to conclude that no soils or environmental testing have ever been preformed by the City or its agents along the right-of-way and that this has led to an egregious omission of information to a City Council being asked to spend $2,000,000 building a trail and no one knows how much securing and maintaining it.

The Importance of Being Self-Important

When you’re a politician and really feel the need to promote yourself what do you do? You wait for an opportunity. Almost any opportunity will do if you’re truly needy and advertising your brand is critical to your narcissist mission.

Here, our esteemed Councilmembers from District 3 and 5 have joined forces for a truly unnecessary exercise in showing how wonderful they are – Jewish and Arab-Muslim leaders. Of course the word leader should be placed within quotation marks.

How wonderful. Except that I have to wonder about the use of the City letterhead bearing the official City seal. Is this sort of expression even legal? Someone should ask Dick Jones of the “I Can’t Believe It’s A Law Firm.”

The Scam

Disillusioned Ex-Hippy has just written a nice piece about how the Voice of OC got conned into publishing a completely one-sided story on the defeated Trail to Nowhere, replete with the same falsehoods being printed by Saskia Kennedy and her mother, Sharon, who are responsible for the editorials of the Fullerton Observer.

The narrative is simple: poor, underserved Latinos are fighting City Hall to get “nice things.” Of course it was lapped up by Voice reporter Hosam Elattar who took the bait and the hook along with it. The whole thing is a genuine and popular uprising of hard working folk taking time away from their jobs, etc., etc.

But there’s a problem with this story, one that we already know about. And that is that the ongoing “protest,” such as it is, was ginned up by D5 councilman Ahmad Zahra to embarrass his political opponents on the Fullerton City Council. And this little scheme has been aided and abetted by the Kennedy clan every step of the way.

So get this.

On October 4th the Fullerton Observer is inviting people to show up at Independence Park that afternoon to talk about ways to improve Fullerton. No mention is made of protest signs and walks along the railroad tracks with narration provided by one Egleth Nunnci, Zahra’s loyal, go-to Latina foot soldier. Anyone seeing this message might believe they were going to discuss improving Independence Park and would hardly expect to hear the propaganda that has nothing to do with Independence Park. Neither would they expect a photojournalist (and maybe even a reporter) to be in attendance to report on a political protest, with signs handed out for fun.

What a sad, albeit sort of funny little scam, but just the sort of small-scale chisel Zahra watchers have come to expect. Now, it’s likely that nobody seeing that message even showed up, and that the trail hikers were all Zahra brand crisis actors. Nevertheless, the willingness to deliberately mislead citizens like this is pretty reprehensible even for the self-important and self-righteous Kennedy family.

The Poison Trail to Nowhere?

Is it safe? Is it clean?

Is the ground under the now deceased Trail To Nowhere polluted with a toxin that nobody bothered to tell our City Council about?

I don’t know. But I do know that the question came up the other day and has the ring of truth to it.

In the last FFFF post about a bike trail that runs parallel to the now dead Trail to Nowhere, one of our Friends by the name of Observer pointed out the existence of trichloroethylene contamination at 311 South Highland Avenue and provided a handy link to a government website that indicates polluted sites.

Sure enough, 311 S. Highland Avenue is indicated on the map, and this address runs adjacent to the proposed trail west of Highland Avenue. The blue square represents an active contaminated address.

A trail runs through it…

Trichloroethylene (TCE) is used as a solvent for degreasing metal parts during the manufacture of a variety of products. This is really nasty stuff, and was used by manufacturers of circuit boards to clean stray solder and other unwanted material off the boards. Guess what? Hughes used to make circuit boards on this property several decades ago.

Did our crack city staff know about this situation? If they did, they sure weren’t talking. We know that 20 years ago the same folks bought the former UP property without doing any due diligence – which is why the UP Park had to be closed right after construction for remediation of toxins and gained the moniker “Poisoned Park.” Did anybody in City Hall learn anything from that previous disaster?

The test of that question is whether anyone commissioned a so-called Phase I Environmental Study, used to assess potential environmental issues on a given property, in this case, the long, skinny trail site. If they had they surely would have discovered the history of 311 S. Highland, and that it was long ago identified by the Environmental Protection Agency as contaminated. At that point a Phase II study should have been conducted to determine if indeed, the long UP right-of-way was contaminated like the eastern end of the UP property was.

Of course, none of this was discussed at the City Council meetings pertaining to the State grant or the trail design; fortunately Dunlap, Whitaker and Jung made the right decision without knowing any of the back story about the proposed trail’s neighbors.

Tanned, rested, and ready.

There is more to be learned about what happened, or, to be more precise, what didn’t happen in this process. Rest assured, our crack team of investigators will be pursuing this issue, and as we learn more we’ll be reporting what we know with the Friends.